The Taser's Edge

Remindfulness (or, Mindfulness Revisited)
November 13, 2008, 10:53 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

           In a weekly reflection very early in the semester, I wrote about my thinking through mindfulness (in particular, Jon Kabat-Zinn’s version of it) as a Christian practice.  Two weeks ago I began a mindfulness class through CAPS at Duke, and I found myself needing to work through some theological issues again.  At the beginning of the first session, part of each person’s self-introduction was to say what we were hoping to gain from a mindfulness class, and why we had come.  My personal reason was that I deal with anxiety and depression and have found this to be helpful in the past, not only in overcoming mental illness, but in becoming more self-aware emotionally.  A broader reason is that one of my gifts and interests in the church is prayer and prayer ministry.  I believe that there are some parts of mindfulness training that can support and add to healthy prayer lives, both my own and those of future Christians whom I disciple.

            But there is a problem—mindfulness in itself is not prayer, nor does it aim or claim to be.  It is more similar to physical exercise than it is to prayer, a practice used for mental and emotional (and according to several studies, physical) self-care, not for connection, communication, or communion with God.  Most of the people in my mindfulness class have no previous experience with meditation, and no one other than me spoke of any spiritual or religious aspect to their practice of meditation, but I do not know what meditation is unless it is religious.  Or at least, I do not see meditation’s worth for myself when it is only a mental exercise which might help me to be a little more patient, and might lower my blood pressure a tad.

            Perhaps it says as much about my priority-setting as it does about my religious outlook, but I need meditation to be prayer, both so that I can see its worth in my own life, and so that it will fit within the very real time limitations under which I live.  If I want to take God’s call to prayer seriously, spend significant time in prayer each day, for myself, my family, my friends, my community, the Church, all God’s children, and God’s world, but those twenty minutes I spend on two mindfulness sessions do not “count” as prayer, then it’s going to be hard for me to find a place in my schedule for mindfulness.  It will probably be impossible, and I probably won’t do it.

            Skipping over the admittedly major issue of why I would be concerned with what “counts” as prayer, I would like to say that I really do believe that mindfulness can function as prayer, even as I am still working to discover what that looks like.  For me, the most practical difference that made me feel better about this practice was when I began practicing centering prayer as mindfulness.  When I do centering prayer, it is easy for me to choose a word or phrase which is too abstract.  “God is perfect” is true and great, but I don’t really know what it means in any real sense, and all the idea does is make me wish for a perfection in myself that is probably totally unlike God’s perfection.  For this reason, Scriptural phrases are often the best.  This week, what came into my mind was “His banner over me is love” (Cant. 2:4b).

            It’s a nice theme verse for the week, and the other one is “cease striving,” which is known in another translation as “Be still and know that I am God” from Psalm 46.  Both verses point me to God’s overwhelming love for me.  They remind me that all is accomplished in Christ.  When I step back from “striving,” then I also can step back from worry and fear in CPE, at Duke Divinity, and (although still getting there…) life.

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